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Rare baby earless dragons ready for visitors

Donna Coutts, November 30, 2020 6:45PM Kids News

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Grassland earless dragon. Picture: Zoos Victoria media_cameraGrassland earless dragon. Picture: Zoos Victoria

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Keepers at Melbourne Zoo have proudly introduced to visitors some very rare baby Australian reptiles — grassland earless dragons.

The species is classified as critically endangered in Victoria, with the last confirmed Victorian sighting 50 years ago.

Small wild populations of genetically distinct* grassland earless dragon species are still found in parts of the ACT and New South Wales, where the dragons are classified as endangered.

Sixteen dragons hatched at Melbourne Zoo’s Reptile House last year, the first time the species had been successfully bred at a zoo.

The young dragons are descendants* of parents collected from the wild in the ACT, as Melbourne Zoo is working closely with other organisations such as ACT Parks and Conservation Service, The University of Canberra and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in the ACT to protect the species by establishing a zoo-bred insurance* population.

Melbourne Zoo Ectotherms* Keeper Rory Keenan said another 22 rare reptiles have hatched at the zoo this year, and there are more fertile eggs in the incubator.

The zoo has moved its precious population to specially-designed facilities at Melbourne Zoo’s Keeper Kids area, giving visiting children the chance to fall in love with the fascinating and gorgeous reptiles.

Home for the grassland earless dragons at Melbourne Zoo Keeper Kids. Picture: Zoos Victoria media_cameraHome for the grassland earless dragons at Melbourne Zoo’s Keeper Kids area. Picture: Zoos Victoria

“They have not been seen in Victoria since 1969,” Mr Keenan said. “One of the reasons we have these Canberra grassland earless dragons here at Melbourne Zoo is so that we can learn as much as we can about their captive* husbandry* in the hope that, if we do find the Victorian species, we can start working on recovering that species as well.

“This is a specially-designed facility for these earless dragons. It gives us opportunities to group them into social groupings or pairings. It gives them opportunities to reproduce.

“It gives them bigger and better enclosures that are better aligned* to their natural history. And, because it is an environmentally controlled facility, we can drop temperatures and raise temperatures to really align* it to what they would be naturally experiencing out in the wild.

“It also gives us a chance to have a couple of individuals on display in the Keeper Kids areas so a lot of kids can come through and see these little dragons in action.”

The grassland earless dragon is one of 27 priority threatened species identified in Zoos Victoria’s Wildlife Conservation Master Plan.

One of the grasssland earless dragons at Melbourne Zoo. Picture: Zoos Victoria media_cameraOne of the grassland earless dragons ready to come out and meet visitors at Melbourne Zoo. Picture: Zoos Victoria

GRASSLAND EARLESS DRAGONS
Lizards don’t have ear flaps (called pinna) like mammals do. Instead, most lizard species have holes in the sides of their head for the sound to go in.

Grassland earless dragons, however, don’t have any external ear openings.

When fully grown, the dragons are just 15cm from head to tail.

They are energetic! Adults can move 110m in a day.

They are light brown with white stripes running down their body with darker bands running across their back.

They prefer undisturbed native grasslands and were once widespread across western Victoria, NSW and the ACT, but their population has declined because of habitat loss and drought.

If you see a grassland earless dragon, take a photo and note other details such as a description of the dragon and location and when you saw it and email www.zoo.org.au/about-us/contact-us/

Grassland earless dragons

GLOSSARY

  • distinct: able to be told apart from something else
  • descendants: later generations
  • insurance: just in case something goes wrong
  • ectotherms: cold-blooded animals who get their heat from their environment
  • captive: in a zoo or sanctuary rather than in the wild
  • husbandry: helping baby animals be born
  • aligned: suit or match better
  • align: match or go with

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QUICK QUIZ

  1. What is the news in this story?
  2. Why are they called earless dragons?
  3. Describe what they look like and their size.
  4. What is the project helping zookeepers learn?
  5. What sort of habitat do the dragons prefer?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Label the enclosure
Grassland earless dragons are now a feature in the reptile house at the Melbourne Zoo. Write a plaque that can be placed in front of their enclosure to let visitors know which creature they are looking at. You should include a paragraph or two that includes a physical description of them, where they live (natural habitat and distribution), their endangered status and how the zoo is supporting the survival of this species.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative thinking

2. Extension
A Dragon’s Perspective
The young dragons who have been hatched at the Melbourne Zoo Reptile House are descendants from dragons caught in the wild in the ACT. They will have never known what it is like to live in the wild.

Pretend you are their parents who were captured and brought to the Melbourne Zoo. Tell your baby dragons a bedtime story about life in the wild, what was happening to the population of dragons, how they were captured and what life is like now in the zoo. Include what they miss about the wild and what benefits the zoo offers.

Time: allow 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science, Critical and Creative thinking

VCOP ACTIVITY
Adjectives
An adjective is a describing word. They are often found describing a noun. To start with look at the words before the nouns.

Search for all the adjectives you can find in the article

Did you find any repeat adjectives or are they all different?

Extension: Pick three of your favourite adjectives from the text and put them in your own sentences to show other ways to use them.

Have you used any in your writing?

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